This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The following curious derivation of the name Horse Chestnut (AEsculus Hippocastanum) as well as the fact giving rise to it, may possibly be as new to the readers of The Garden as it was to me, particularly as neither Loudon, in his "Encyclopaedia," nor any French book on the subject, that I have seen, makes any mention of it. On examining, either with or without a glass, the mark left by the leaf stalk after its fall a very distinct impression of a horseshoe imbedded in the bark may be observed, bearing in relief seven dots, simulating the heads of as many nails. This mark assumes much more accurately the shape of the horseshoe on the twigs of last year's growth than on older wood. This derivation seems much less "far fetched" than the two following given by Loudon : " It is said by some to be applied ironically; the nuts though having the appearance of Sweet Chestnuts, being only fit for horses ; and by some others, because the nuts are used in Turkey for curing horses of pulmonary diseases." If fit for any animals, Horse Chestnuts are more likely to be called only fit for pigs. First, because the irony would be so much the greater; and, secondly, because horses do not eat them willingly.
As to their use in the medicinal line, it is possible that Turks, being no great doctors, may administer them to consumptive horses, but they can hardly be of much use in lung complaints, as their only medicinal property recognized in civilized pharmacopeia is that of a tonic, and, as such, the tincture of Horse Chestnuts is sometimes given for gastralgia. The oil of Horse Chestnuts was, a few years ago, greatly puffed up in Paris as a cure for gout; it was applied externally, but was of little or no use, and is now considered merely as a quack medicine. Starch seems to be the best product of these nuts, but somehow the manufacture of it has never paid in this country, although Horse Chestnuts may be had almost everywhere for the mere gathering. Like Cassava (or Manioc) and many other feculent roots or nuts, repeated washings and triturating will rid them of their bitter and acrid principle, leaving the fecula in an eatable state ; the only question being that of the cost of the labor required for these operations. - Fredk. Palmer in Gardener's Magazine.
The Chestnut (Castanea vesca), celebrated amongst European trees for the enormous size it will attain, is already mentioned in the Bible. Theophrastus and Athenseus give it the name of Eubcean Nut. from the Island of Euboea, now Negropont, where it was peculiarly abundant. Pliny says that Chestnuts first came from Sardis, the ancient capital of Lydia, and not far from the modern Smyrna, Galen, who was a Lydian, confirms that origin, and says that they were also called Balani leuceni, frum Leucene, situated on Mount Ida. Other writers, ancient and modern, give various Eastern countries as the native stations of the Chestnut, and even Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti,our author's grandfather, believed them to be introduced only into Italy; but not only have the extensive Chestnut woods in the Apuan Alps and other parts of the Apennines, mentioned by Bertoloni, every appearance of being really indigenous, but further evidence that woods of this tree existed in Tuscany from very remote times, may be found in the number of places which have derived their names from them, such as Castagna, Castagnaia, Castag-neta, etc.
We may, indeed, safely give as the native country of the wild Chestnut, the south of Europe from Spain to the Caucasus. It does not extend to East India. - The Garden.